Volcan Cerro Quemado is the most prominent and nearest volcano to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. At 3,197 meters, it towers above the bustling city and offers spectacular views from the top. It is easily accessible by bus, car, or foot and the hike can be done in a day, or even half a day if your movin’. From speaking to many locals and researching online, I have concluded that not many people climb this peak as it sits in the shadows of its larger neighbors. For this reason, the trail is not that well marked with many moments of deciding which way to go. But, it is also one of the cleanest trails, meaning not littered with trash, since not many people hike it. After hiking it twice, I also concluded that it is relatively safe in terms petty thefts, since the only people I interacted with were farmers and a few dogs, and no one else was on the trail. In comparison to the other volcanoes here in Xela (Santa Maria, Siete Orejas, and Laguna Chicabal), Cerro Quemado has been my favorite hike because of the challenges it offers through its diverse terrain along with its natural beauty that flourishes in silence.
One feature about Cerro Quemado that I love is that it is very easy to get to and does not require any money, or arranging transportation. I left around 7:30am from Parque Central, and it took me just about an hour to walk to the trail head. From Parque Central head south on 12 Avenida until you cannot go any further, which should be 11a Calle. From there make a left and walk two blocks until you reach 9a Avenida and turn right. 9a avenida is a pretty busy street with not the best sidewalk, but you will walk uphill on this street for about 20-30 min until you reach the major left turn. When you see this left turn you will branch off to the right onto a cobble stone road, where the entrance is usually full of pickup trucks giving the locals a ride up to their houses, and there are a few small shops to buy snacks and what not. This is also where the "chicken bus" stops, if you are interested in taking the bus. You will then continue uphill on the cobble stone road for about 10-15 min until you see a big sign on the right that says "Banos de Vahos". This sign will be at the entrance to a dirt road on the right side that winds uphill. The road is called "La Pedrera". Follow this dirt road uphill for about 15 min until you reach another sign with the option to go left or right. Right will lead you to the natural steam baths (banos vahos 20Q/hr), and left will lead you to the trailhead. Go left and walk for another 5-7 min until the dirt road ends and the actual trail begins. There is no sign at the trail head, just a faintly painted blue arrow on a rock pointing to go up.
There is also the other trailhead that starts about another 30 min up the cobblestone road, if you were to not turn right onto the dirt road La Pedrera. This trail is more for people that want to only climb up to La Muela, which is a lower peak of Cerro Quemado. If you want to reach the true summit, I would advise NOT going this way because 1) the trail is not as enjoyable, 2) really difficult to reach Cerro Quemado from La Muela as you are crossing sharp and unsteady volcanic rock the whole time, 3) Farther to get to, and 4) There is a guard at this entrance who may or may not charge you a few Quetzales to hike this way. But if you want to only hike La Muela, by all means this is the most direct way (only about 40 min to the top).
I assume you could take a taxi or bus to the cobble stone road, but I would not recommend doing that because I like to think of the walk to the trailhead as part of the hike (all uphill). It is not a very long hike, and being able to walk from your house/hostal to the volcano is not something you can do with most peaks around this area. I left around 7:30am and was home by 3:30pm.
As soon as the dirt road ends you will follow the faintly blue arrows painted on rocks and trees that lead immediately up a steep, switchback ascent. This part of the trail is well trotted so you should have no problem identifying it. You will soon reach a more "level" top with a nice rock structure to rest at. Be aware that here it appears to be three different trails, and you will want to take the one that goes to the RIGHT. The trail will now lead you through a series of ups and downs as you descend into the prairie. Stay alert to the blue arrows you will be following and if in doubt, always stay on the path that appears the most worn. The trail will lead into an open prairie with some great views of the summit. Cross the prairie and begin heading uphill. At this point take note that the arrow color that you are following will change from blue to purple to red and back to blue, so do not always follow blue but always follow the trail that is to your right. After about 90 min on the trail you will find yourself in between the two peaks, the summit to your left and the lower peak to your right. At this point you can check out the numerous thermal vents amongst the rocks, where super hot steam is being released from the ground. Play in it, bathe, but don't be misdirected by the many trails that lead to the right or straight ahead. The TRUE trail will go left, over and between many rocks. It may be hard to identify the trail at this point, so take your time and check your surroundings. Soon the trail will become pretty steep, with some scrambling to do. After about 15 min you will reach a huge rock wall towering above you, and the only way to go is left (arrows begin again). At this point the summit is right above your head (100ft or so), but you have to walk around the wall until you reach a cut-through in the rock wall. This cut-through/cave like thing is the only way up from this side, and in my perspective was the most challenging but fun part of the hike. You will see two dead trees in the cave positioned to help yourself lift your body up to climb in between the walls. No climbing materials are necessary, but some upper body strength is required at this point (and it might be best to not look down). Once you climb through the cave you are about 1 min to the summit, which is an easy walk in comparison to what you just did. From the summit you can see all of Xela, Santa Maria, Tajumulco, and many other peaks I could not identify.
From the trail head it took us 2 1/2 hrs, with many stops included. From Parque Central 3 1/2 hrs. The descent was 1 hr and 20 min, with another 45 min back to the park.
There are no signs that prohibit or allow camping, so I would say you can camp there! A few good places would be at the thermal vents (about 90 min into the hike), or at the top. The summit is a mix of trees, shrubs and open rocks, so there are a several good places on the top that would give you some wind protection, but at the same time open sky. With such little human activity on the peak, I would not be concerned of being robbed at any point on this hike, or camp.